Cumulative Advantage

Yeah this makes sense to me... how about you? (image from Wikipedia)

Conventional marketing wisdom holds that predicting success in cultural markets is mostly a matter of anticipating the preferences of the millions of individual people who participate in them. If you are aware of the concept of Cumulative Advantage– that is things rise to the top not because they are better quality than the alternatives, but because people copy what their friends do: a tiny rise in popularity an early stage can mean massive popularity further down the line.

For a more learned description let’s refer to Wikipedia (preferential attachment):

A preferential attachment process is any of a class of processes in which some quantity, typically some form of wealth or credit, is distributed among a number of individuals or objects according to how much they already have, so that those who are already wealthy receive more than those who are not. “Preferential attachment” is only the most recent of many names that have been given to such processes. They are also referred to under the names “Yule process”, “Gibrat’s law”, “cumulative advantage”, “the rich get richer”, and, less correctly, the “Matthew effect”. The principal reason for scientific interest in preferential attachment is that it can, under suitable circumstances, generate power law distributions.

Will It Ever Die?

For cumulative advantage to be dead it would mean that we no longer follow the herd. We no longer follow what is most popular and what others are looking at in the sky. It can never be this way–we look for short cuts. The other day I was looking for a new camera to buy and I searched both Google and Amazon. I only chose to view the ones that had 4+ stars. While beyond what the cumulative effect (I was looking at ratings) I immediately ignored the camera’s with less than 20 actual ratings.

The Long Tail

As more industries are effected by the long tail of technology will the cumulative advantage effect be as powerful? Or does the cumulative effective scale down as the size of the market becomes thinner?